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Survey Says Public Enthusiastic for Use -- and Regulation -- of Biotechnology

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 26 - A majority of Americans want biotechnology that yields tests to help parents have a baby free of genetic disease, reports the Johns Hopkins' Genetics and Public Policy Center, which released results earlier this month from its first survey. At the same time, most Americans want the USgovernment to regulate these technologies.


The Genetics and Public Policy Center, created in March with a $9.9 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, is trying to bridge gaps between potential government regulators, public sentiment, and academic and private industry about how best to develop and use biotechnology.


"The number of tests -- diagnostic and predictive -- is going up," said Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center. And yet "there is not a readily accessible source of information for these technologies and implications. [Additionally,] the public's pretty in the dark" about what government regulation exists.


And while public understanding may be lacking, according to the survey, interest in genetics is on the upswing and will probably rise some more with the planned announcement this spring of the completion of the human genome, said Hudson.


"Genomics is the driver behind the genetics," she said.


In an effort to create a broad dialogue from which to analyze public policy issues raised by advances in human genetics, which is the Center's mission, Hudson and her colleagues are talking with the scientific community, clinicians, religious groups, and industry, including the Biotechnology Industry Organization. The Center would also like to work with individual member companies of BIO, said Hudson.


What's at stake goes beyond bioethics and public policy - which are the fruits of advances in biotechnology - and to the dollars which enable those advances, she said.


"Public support for biomedicine had been a facilitator for funding," she pointed out. This, she said, should give both academic and industry researchers one more reason to enter the public discussion.

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